Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Cardinals

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Series Recap: Cubs 10, Cardinals 3, dooooooom

Cubs win?
Memo from a Cardinals fan:
I know it's only 17 games into the 2009 season, but I'm nervous.  My team was doing really good there for a few games, but did you see the way the Cubs hammered them today?  It's like it wasn't even a competition!  I mean, where was the Cards offense?  What will we do it St. Louis can't stop the bleeding?  10 runs to 3?  Horrible!  I'm quite convinced this season is going to be a total bust...

Back in reality.  Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?  But if the script had been flipped and the Cubs took the first 2 game of this series only to get smacked around by the Cardinals today, then that is exactly what dopey Cub fans would be saying right now. 

Nevertheless, the Cubs whomped the Cardinals.  It felt good.  Every starter - but Geo Soto, shocker and Reed Johnson - got a hit.  In fact, the 1-4 guys went 8 for 16 with 7 of the team's 8 RBI (2 runs came unearned).

Offensive winners particularly include Micah Hoffpauir - 2 for 3, with 1 homerun (clearly he needs to have Derrek Lee's job) - and Kosuke Fukudome, who hit his 4th homerun of the year.  Remember folks, he only hit 10 all of last season.

Rich Harden picked up his second win of the year, struck out 9 in 6 innings, dropped his ERA to 3.86, and sweated his balls off when the Cubs bullpen came in and gave up 4 hits and 2 walks in the final 3 innings of the game. 

Series Recap
This could be known as the Three Game April Series in which some very vocal Cub fans lost their confidence in the team.  I will not contest how ugly it was, because it sure was horrible.  I won't argue that some very bad things happened - from freak injuries to ugly losses to feelings of immense frustration - because those were all bad and they happened in a matter of one weekend.

But I will say this: if your team quit on the game as quickly as you quit on your team, you would hate them with a passion.  Just a reminder.

Tomorrow the Cubs head into Arizona, and we will be announcing some fun projects at GROTA.

Current Record: 9-8
Position in the NL Central: 4th place, 3 games out of first
Best Possible Record: 154-8
Worst Possible Record: 9-153
Record needed to win 110: 101-44
On Pace For: 86-76

Quick Links
Series Preview: Cubs at St. Louis
Game Recap: Cardinals 4, Cubs 3, rising tide of panic
Game Recap: Cardinals 8, Cubs 2, our season is clearly over
GameCast: Cubs at Cardinals April 26th

GameCast: April 26th - Cubs at St. Louis, our fragile shells are cracked edition

Cubs at Cards
Rich Harden (1-1, 4.20 ERA) vs. Todd Wellemeyer (1-1, 5.29 ERA)
Story-Lines
The sky is falling!  The Cubs have lost 4 straight!  Run, run for your lives!  Abandon this team before it's too late! 

Erm, sorry about that.  I need to chill.  Anyway, I wonder what it would be like to live in Lou Piniella's brain on a day like this.  The team he's managing - expected to be the best offensive team in baseball - is struggling, is sluggish, and is losing a lot.  Like Murtaugh, he's probably feeling way too old for this shiz.  I'm waiting for Lou to crack.

Who's Hot
Theriot, Fukudome, and even Fontenot all managed 2 hits yesterday.  Regrettably the Cubs left 9 on the bases and have struggled to get the hits when they count.

Who's Not
The heart of the lineup and the bullpen.  It was a testament to the '08 Cubs that they were able to win so many games when the top of the lineup struggled.  Believe it or not, they are still that deep.  They're just having trouble getting the engines revved up. 

As for the bullpen, I think that the release of Luis Vizcaino has complicated matters.  Maybe he was an attitude problem; probably he was pissed to not be used often enough.  But his departure plus the promotion of Samardzija minus the reliability of Marmol plus the flailings of Patton and Cotts equals a volatile situation.  I get the feeling that once the Cubs pull the plug on the Patton experiment - due any day now - the last few spots of the pen will become a revolving door until somebody mans up and takes the job with authority ... or until Hendry makes a few trades.

Conclusions
I would expect the Cubs to play hard today.  They don't want to get swept by the Cardinals, they don't want to fall a game under .500, and they certainly don't want to cause Lou to stroke out in the dugout.  (Hmm "Stroke Out in the Dugout" could totally be a song.) 

Which isn't to say that they will win today, or escape their current troubles by having one magical performance, but if you don't think the Cubs are a better team than how they've been playing then I have nothing for you.

One last note
I'm posting this a little early today because I have the always-exciting marriage course to go to in order to gain the church's permission to have a Catholic wedding.  I sure am happy I get to do that rather than watch baseball.  (Hint: that was sarcasm)

Quick Links
Series Preview: Cubs at St. Louis
Game Recap: Cardinals 4, Cubs 3, rising tide of panic
Game Recap: Cardinals 8, Cubs 2, our season is clearly over

Game Recap: Cardinals 8, Cubs 2, our season is clearly over

Cubs lose ... again
In case you missed it, this wouldn't be happening if Mark DeRosa was here.

Or if Jim Hendry knew how to build a team.

Or if Lee, Bradley, and Fontenot didn't suck so much.

Apparently if Mark DeRosa was on the Cubs and if Hendry had gotten real players instead of schmucks like Milton Bradley, then they would never lose 4 games in a row, they would never have team-wide offensive droughts, and in fact they would never give us cause for concern as they blasted their way toward a World Series Championship.

These are the things a couple of our readers have informed us about this weekend.
For the record, last year's World Championship team began the year with an 8-8 record and were only 15-13 after the first month of baseball.  They spent a long period of the month of May struggling to win more games than they lost.  From June 14th until June 29th, they went 3-11, including 6 straight losses.  They had 4 game losing streaks in July and August, and they started play after the All Star Break with a win, and then immediately lost 5 of their next 6. 

My point is that some Cub fans appear to suffer from the ability to look ahead, or put current goings-ons in context.  I keep pointing this stuff out, but maybe they don't believe me?  But let's try it again.

Derrek Lee is batting .293 since April 13th.  I know, DB is one of the peeps who doesn't trust DLee or expect him to perform, but it really is not surprising that he started slow.  Point of fact, way back at the beginning of the year I outlined 4 examples of past Cubs who began the year struggling and turned things up a notch later on.

Point of fact - as of this date, does anybody really believe that the numbers mean anything?  As of today, Kevin Youkilis is batting .444.  Does that mean the frozen noggin of Ted Williams should start sweating?  Carlos Pena is on pace to hit 72 homeruns.  Should Barry Bonds be concerned?  Does anybody really think it's likely that Aramis Ramirez or Kosuke Fukudome will finish the year batting at - or better than - their current averages (.358 and .345)?

If the answer is "no," then how in the hell can you see a full 50% of our team's lineup struggle and expect them to play that badly all year long?  Right now, Derrek Lee, Mike Fontenot, Geovany Soto, and Milton Bradley are a combined 31 for 175 - and 25 of those hits come from Lee and Font.  That's a .177 AVG from half the starting lineup.  No kidding that they'd be struggling right now!  I'm shocked to see them struggle to win games with half their lineup sucking ass!  I would've thought that the Cubs were so solidly built that they could overcome a slump that's effecting half the fricking team!  Damn yous Jim Hendry for not building a better roster!  Damn yous!

Anyway, the problem is that everybody wants the Superlative Season.  The only problem is that back here in reality it does not happen.  Even the best teams struggle.  It's a fact of life. 

So, yes, the Cubs are struggling right now.  The offense grinding and groaning and not in the fun way.  The pitching staff is looking worse by the day, what with injuries to the team's best setup guy, and the release of a pitcher with a 0.00 ERA (and an attitude), and the flailings of the fringe players who cracked the squad out of Spring Training.  Yes.  Things are ugly.

But what is worse to me is the continued Woe is Cub attitude that so many people are prone to display at the first sign of the team's struggles.  It's just ridiculous.  I mean, yes, this is all very frustrating from the fan's standpoint and we should be frustrated.  But anybody who starts talking about "the moves not made" or how "the players brought in are failures" after 16 freaking games is putting the cart way, waaay before the horses.

Frustration is fine.  Surrender is French.  Don't be a Surrender Monkey!

Quick Links

Series Preview: Cubs at St. Louis
Game Recap: Cardinals 4, Cubs 3, rising tide of panic
GameCast: Cubs at Cardinals April 25th 

GameCast: April 25th Cubs vs. Cardinals

GameCast
Story-lines
The Cubs offense slumbers their way along.  Maybe today's the day they light a fire.  But probably not.  The Cardinals, meanwhile, are off to the start that we'd dreamed the Cubs would have. 

Lou Piniella continues his experiment with yesterday's lineup.  There's only one discouraging problem - the cleanup and protection hitters are batting .206 and .208 respectively.

Who's Hot
Not really anybody.  Reed Johnson, I guess, who went 2 for 4 yesterday.  The Fonz's sole hit yesterday was a double.  And, hey, Fontenot drove in a run!  Woo-hoo!

Who's Not
See above.

Conclusions

The Cubs are facing a young pitcher who hasn't had a whole lot of experience.  I'm wondering if/when Lou will try to light a fire under his team.  You can bet that if the offense remains lackluster, if big opportunities are squandered, if the Cardinals thrash the Cubs today, then ... dare I say it?  It's gonna hai.

Game recap: Cardinals 4, Cubs 3, rising tide of panic

Cardinals 4, Cubs 3
¡SHOCKING NEWSFLASH!
When your team is built without key components like backup third basemen, you will eventually find yourself in a tight spot!

Lou Piniella is learning this lesson the hard way, though.  He decided to build his team around having an extra outfielder (Carjump Gathright) and an extra pitcher due to a lack of minor league options (Angel Guzman) at the expense of having a backup third baseman (???? ????) and a lefty reliever (???? ?????-?????)

Consequently, the Cubs find themselves caught between a rock and a hammer thanks in part to a whole wack of small-but-flaw-exposing injuries.  Milton Bradley's got a sore groin.  Aramis Ramirez left the game due to a sore leg.  Carlos Marmol hurt "the side of his left knee," whatever that means.  So now Lou has a decision to make - with Aramis sore and aching, the team finally needs to cave in and grab themselves another backup infielder.  So who goes on the DL?

I don't know, is this a trick question?  Without a doubt, without hesitation, our first visitor to the list is Milton Bradley, and here are the reasons why:

  1. Dude's so hurt he can't run right now.  Maybe Aramis is too, so this is a push.
  2. Bradley has one hit on the season.  He's cold as a bucket of iced-up spit.  Aramis Ramirez was hitting the ball exceptionally well.
  3. THE CUBS HAVE A TON OF BACKUP OUTFIELDERS!

Anyway, Bradley is DL bound.  The Cubs will find some crafty infielder to promote to spell Fontenot, Theriot, and Miles.  Being realistic for a moment, the Cubs probably would benefit from having two more back up middle infielders, but this is apparently the first 25-man roster Lou Piniella has ever constructed so let's take it in baby steps. 

Back to the game for a minute.  All told, the Cubs had their chances.  They collected 8 hits from 7 starters (Reed Johnson got 2 of the 8 hits, Ryan Theriot went 0 for 5 in his first game as a leadoff hitter meaning that Piniella is probably bound to abandon the experiment).  But they again only walked twice in the game.  It's a Patient Team and a Disciplined Team that becomes an Offensive Force Team. 

On the pitching front, Clownsevelt had his best start of the year - 6 innings pitched, 7 hits, 3 earned, only 1 walk and 6 strikeouts.  The Cubs may have even been poised to win it were it not for Marmol's inconsistency and strange injury.

I won't be trying to calm the panickers who are freaked out over the 8-8 record of the team, except to say that some of these problems stem from roster and lineup construction.

When you have a 25 man roster, and 12 of those spots are filled by pitchers (and can somebody please tell me what in the hell is wrong with the old fashioned 11 man pitching staff?)

And if you are going to go with 13 hitters, then how does that break down?

2 catchers is a given.
1 first baseman, with some other guy on the roster who can play first.
2 second basemen.
2 shortstops, with one shortstop who can also play third.
1 third baseman.
2 left fielders, with one who can play right field as well.
2 center fielders.
1 right fielder.

If you build a team like that you're pretty well set.  But this is what Lou gave us:

2 catchers.
2 first basemen, with one who can supposedly play RF.
2 second baseman, with one wo can play shortstop and the other who can play third.
1 shortstop.
1 third baseman.
2 left fielders, with one who can play RF.
2 center fielders, with one who can play left.
1 right fielder.

How could this work?  I mean, doesn't this roster have way too many vulnerabilities?  For instance, if your 1 RFer gets hurt, and your third baseman gets hurt, then your one backup infielder has to start at second base, your starting second baseman has to move to third, you have nobody who can play in the infield in case of an emergency, and your bench is decimated.  So why not just cut a pitcher, DL the outfielder, and promote two guys who can play several positions including the left-hand side of the infield?

Just wondering.

Quick Links
First Series Recap: Cubs 2, Cardinals 1
Series Preview: Cubs at Cardinals
GameCast: Cubs vs. Cardinals   

Series Preview: Chicago Cubs at. St. Louis Cardinals

Cubs v. CardsMatchups
Overview

In celebration of the Cubs losing their first three game series of the season, I thought it might be appropriate to indulge in a bit of all-caps panicking.  To wit:

  • AGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!  CUBS CAN'T SCORE!!!!! PUT MICAH IN AT CATCHER!!!!!!!
  • AND SECOND BASE!!!!!!!!!!!
  • TRADE MILTON BRADLEY FOR THREE WEDGES OF BRIE AND A LIGHT BRIGHT!!!!!!!!
  • SANDWICHES!!!!!!!!!!

THERE. er, there.  That felt pretty good, right?  Right.

So yeah, the Cubs offense has been slightly worse than stagnant (repugnant?) these last couple of games, managing a mere one run and two walks in two games.  Granted, they faced two pretty good pitchers, but c'mon!  And to top it all off, their would-be-star right fielder is out for the foreseeable future and nobody seems to think he should go onto the DL.

Who's up for a bit more Hoffpauir gymnastics in the outfield?  Rock.

And so now the Cubs will roll into the deep south (too deep for my taste, anyway) and attempt to stop the greatest show on sod.  The Cardinals offense has been hot as a firecracker lately, with the always Ted Williams-esque Albert Pujols doing his thing and the curiously unstoppable Chris Duncan and Ryan Ludwick (and the most curious of the curious, Yadier Molina.  I mean, what the hell?) mashing the ball.  I'm fairly certain that the Cards won't end the season with three hitters OPS'ing over a thousand but, for now, it's a pain in the ass.

Alright, enough fear and pain.  The slump ends here!  The Cubs will rally!  Geo will get a hit!  Fontenot is a star!  CUUUUUBBBBBSSSSSS!!!!!!!

April 24th Ryan Dempster vs. Adam Wainwright

Dare I say that Dempster is proving the naysayers right?  Dare I say it?  DARE I?  Nah, I don't really dare.  I mean, it's only been a few starts and, hey, at least he has a lower ERA that Big Z.  His stuff still looks good (not that there was ever an issue with that), but his control has been quite spotty (always an issue).  We've got four more years of Ryan, so here's hoping it's just a rough start.  For the record, I think it is.

Hey look, another pitcher with good stuff and spotty control.  Adam Wainwright, if anyone can, should solve the Cubs walking woes.  Wainwright was solid but unspectacular in his last start against the Cubs, but that was the hot-hitting Cubs.  Who knows what your mid-to-late April Cubs can do.

April 25th Sean Marshall vs. Mitchell Boggs

Hey look, I totally got a prediction spot on!  I predicted that Marshall would be a bit rusty in his last start and not be all that impressive.  The result: 5 innings, three runs, and some wildness.  I'm frickin' Kreskin.  Marshall, yet again, has been off for awhile, but not for almost a month, so look for him to be a bit more in control.  He's a solid pitcher and I'm looking for a solid outing.  Thus speaks Jason.

Mitchell Boggs, Wade Boggs' father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate*, was less than spectacular last year, posting a ERA north of 7.  He's only thrown two innings this year, so he's unlikely to have too much in the tank.  In the past, this kind of pitcher would give the Cubs fits, but this is a more patient team and should have more success.  You know, in theory.  Ah, who am I kidding.  Kids like this still terrify me.

That and spiders.

(* may not be true)

April 26th Rich Harden vs. Todd Wellemeyer

Hey look, someone who I can say nothing but positive things about!  Harden is a freak of nature, striking out an amazing 26 men in only 15 innings.  And the stats don't even list how man women he might have struck out!  He's on pace for...calculating...8430 strikeouts in 145 innings.  That's very impressive.  I think that might even be a record.

Todd Wellemeyer, on the other hand, has been less impressive.  I think it's because he realized he's Todd Wellemeyer.  His control's been good but the hits, oh the hits!, they've been a-fallin'.  29 hits in only 17 innings!  Hey Todd, Bob Howry called and he wants his WHIP back.

Conclusions

And so the Cubs are facing yet another season-breaking series.  The Cubs are still only one game out in the loss column, so they're still not technically out of the race yet, but they're on the edge of the edge.  This is not a must win, I suppose, but it would be nice to have.  Or that's total crap and it's April.  I get a bit confused sometimes.

Note from Kurt
I'm always the one to tag on to the end of somebody else's hard work and take credit.  It's just the way I roll; you can thank me for the invention of the BK Triple Stacker. 

As noted in the GROTA ShoutBox - for which somebody has already learned how to turn into a website marketing ploy (tisk, tisk, don't make me burn you) - Lou Piniella woke up lucid today and produced a new lineup.

Ryan Theriot - who has been hitting everything in sight - leads off.
Kosuke Fukudome - who has been hitting that ball like a pimp who's owed money - bats second.
Alfonso Soriano - plays leadoff, acts cleanup - bats third.
Aramis Ramirez - Clutchy McClutcherson - bats cleanup.
Derrek Lee - still DP FREE! - bats 5th.

You know what?  It... it actually makes sense!  It is proof again that Dusty Baker doesn't manage the Cubs.  And while I'm unwilling to realign my support of Piniella based on one lineup, I'm shocked, pleased, and awed. 

Lou Piniella.  Well played.

Quick Links

Series Recap: Cubs 2, Cardinals 1

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Series Recap - Cubs win 2 of 3, exit in first place

Sunday evening's Cubs-Cardinals showdown was rained out, much to our disappointment. 

I've pretty much said everything about the series - that I can think of at least, I happily welcome you to interject your own reflections on the match-up - but I'll do a quick recap for everybody.

In general...

The Hitting: The Cubs scored 19 in 3 games.  If they can average 6.3 runs a game the rest of the year, then they will be playoff bound. 

Specifically...

Alfonso Soriano - 3 for 12, 4 BB, 1 HR, 2 RBI, .250 AVG, .438 OBP.  The Fonz actually resembled a leadoff hitter this series with just a dash of clutch thrown in.  Between his 4 walks he hit a game-winning homerun on Friday.

Kosuke Fukudome - 5 for 12, 2 BB, 3 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, .417 AVG, .500 OBP.  Fukudome had at least 1 RBI in every game and was probably the series MVP, even if he didn't hit a game winning homer like Soriano and Ramirez.  He very well may wind up batting .270 this year with below-average numbers, but he remains a contributor for now.

Derrek Lee - 3 for 14, 0 BB, 1 2B, 3 RBI, .214 AVG.  Lee slowed down this series.  The lack of walks gives the impression that he's pressing.  Then again, 3 RBI in 3 games.  I reiterate that Lee belongs batting 6th, but by the end of the year his numbers will be that of a slightly below-average #3 hitter ... and on a team with above average 5 through 8 hitters, that's not such a big deal.

Micah Hoffpauir - 3 for 11, 0 BB, 1 2B, 1 RBI, .273 AVG.  Hoff stepped in for Milton this series, as the Crazy Uncle has found himself slumping and in trouble.  Hoff's numbers aren't bad for your top bench choice.  Maybe Lou needs to realize that that's what Hoffpauir is - the best pinch hitter on the team - rather than continue to feed at bats for Aaron Miles to squander. 

Aramis Ramirez - 6 for 13, 1 BB, 1 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, .416 AVG, .500 OBP.  If Fukudome is the series MVP, Ramirez is the runner up.  Aramis put up great numbers against the Cubs' biggest rival.  Some Goat Riders think that this is Clutchy's year to bust out.  I remain skeptical that he'll outproduce his normal numbers, but even a "normal" Ramirez season is pretty damned good.

Mike Fontenot - 1 for 9, .111 AVG.  Ugh.  Not a good series for FonteYES.  This blog went out of its way to defend Fontenot as the choice to play second base for the Cubs in '09, but so far he's making us look dumber than a brain-damaged Paris Hilton.  Blah blah, small sample sizes, yadda yadda, two months to prove himself, etc. etc., he's still way better than Aaron Miles, (secretly shed a tear for the departed DeRosa; put on a strong face, and so-on).

Aaron Miles - 1 for 5, 2 BB, 2 RBI, .200 AVG, .375 OBP.  Listen.  If you really think Aaron Miles should be starting on the Cubs, then you need to go back to 1997 with your Sammy Sosa hop and your $15 bleachers so you can drunkenly sway with the crowd while Harry Caray sings TMOTTBG in the 7th because under no circumstance should Aaron Miles be starting for a team that's going to win more than 90 games.  I hope you like boy bands, buddy, because you belong in the era where they reigned supreme if you want to stump for Miles.  ...then again, Brittany was hot back then.

Geovany Soto - 1 for 9, 4 BB, 1 RBI, .111 AVG, .385 OBP.  Ah yes, Geovany Soto.  This week's reason for my developing ulcer.  Doesn't Geo know that the Cubs have a history of one-year-wonders?  Isn't he aware of how effin' nervous we get at slow starts?  Anyway, Soto and Bradley should be best friends.  Between them they have 3 hits this year.  And it's April 20th.  Geeze!

Ryan Theriot - 5 for 12, 1 BB, 1 3B, .416 AVG, .462 OBP.  He has long been known as The Riot or, in my case, TheQuitRiot.  But I have a new nickname for Theriot, and I think it will stick.  He shall be called "Slappy."  The guy is getting a ton of hits, often multiple hits per game, but the are rarely for extra bases despite his speed.  Theriot belongs either 1st or 8th in the lineup based on his inability to slug. 

Okay, back to generalities. 

The Pitching (in my best Frankenstein's Monster voice): Starters (and fire) baaaaad.  Bullpen goooood. 

Specifically...

Sean Marshall - Good news: allowed 3 earned runs in 5 innings and left the game with the chance to win.  Bad news: WHIP was 1.8 that game.  Not a terrible outing for a #5 pitcher.  I know Rob expressed a different viewpoint, but I think he overreacted a little.  A team's 5th pitcher - be it the guy pitching for the Yankees or the Pirates - tends to suck.  Marshall very well may be better than most of those #5 guys and one outing in which he barely left with a lead will not even remotely indicate if he's going to be successful.  I need a much larger sample size.

Carlos Zambrano - Good news: 7 innings pitched.  Bad news: 7 earned runs.  Good news: 7 strikeouts.  Bad news: 7 earned runs.  I don't know what it is about Carlos, but when he loses he tends to get beaten up.  He rarely loses a game 3 to 2.  I didn't get to see this game, but I'd guess by the strikeouts that his problem wasn't velocity.  Was it location/lack of movement? 

Ryan Dempster - Good news: 6 innings pitched.  Bad news: they were mediocre.  4 hits, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts, and 4 earned runs were the result of his 103 pitch effort.  Our second richest pitcher needs to improve on that.

Aaron Heilman - 3 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 ER, 3.00 ERA.  Heilman blew a save opportunity (although losing a lead in the 6th inning is blowing a save the cheap way), won a game, and was mostly effective.  Let's just face it - the first game was not the Cubs' to win.

Neil Cotts - 0.1 IP, 1 H, 2 BB.  Let's just be honest.  Cotts is on the Piniella shit list.  Aubrey Huff once told a story about Lou following him into the clubhouse after a game, red-faced and ranting, dogging him in the showers, screaming at the top of his lungs because Huffy screwed up.  Why do I have a feeling that Cotts has experienced something similar to that?  I just think that Piniella needs to put him out there on the mound and leave him to bail out the Cubs or get beaten up by their opponents.  Seriously, the next time Cotts comes in and walks the first batter he faces, Lou needs to leave him out there to bail himself out.

Dave Patton - 0.2 IP, 1 H, 2BB, 2 ER, 27.00 ERA.  (Correct me please if I screwed up the ERA calculation.)  The General had a rough one in the first game of the series. 

Angel Guzman - 2 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 2 K, 4.50 ERA.  Guzman along with the entire Cubs bullpen got slammed in the first game, but he got the job done in Game Three. 

Luis Vizcaino - 1 IP, 1 H, 2 K, 0.00 ERA.  Go figure - Vizcaino has yet to allow an earned run this year.  Isn't he washed up?

Carlos Marmol - 2 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 ER, 4.50 ERA.  Marmol killed it in Game Two, but in the third game Lou went to the well once too often and it cost him.  Carlos is not a two innings-pitched reliever.  Sorry.  He just can't do it.

Kevin Gregg - 2 IP, 2 K, 0 ER, 0.00 ERA.  This guy pretty well may have lost the closer's role, but he saved the day on Saturday.  I think Gregg will still have the gig next week ... but he's right behind Neal Cotts on that list. 

Conclusions
Good, timely hitting - check.
Good, effective starting pitching - meh.
Quality relieving - minus game one, check.
Cubs win 2 of 3, and are now in first place.  Eat it, St. Louis.

Current Record: 7-4
Position in the NL Central: 1st Place, tied with St. Louis
Best Possible Record: 158-4
Worst Possible Record: 7-155
On Pace For: 103-59
Magic Number: 151 courtesy of Cubsmagicnumber.com

GameCast: April 19th - Cardinals vs. Cubs CANCELED

Update: This game has been canceled.  A very special Series Recap will be published either late tonight or early tomorrow.

GameCast
Todd Wellemeyer (1-1, 4.50 ERA) vs. Ted Lilly (2-0, 3.86 ERA)

Story-lines
The first meeting between the Cubs and Cardinals has been everything it was billed to be.  We've had one frustrating loss and two down-to-the-wire games decided late by big homeruns.  We've seen the failure of our starting pitchers and of their bullpen.  We've witnessed timely hits, cutting defensive plays, and so far the Cubs have two wins to show for it.

Today's game, then, is pretty important.  These teams are tied for first in the Central.  And who knows - a Chicago win today just might be the moment where they pull ahead and stay that way for the duration of the '09 season.  Unlikely, but not impossible.

Who's Hot
The Cubs offense ...
Soriano.  .292 on the season.  5 homeruns, 8 walks, .393 OBP and 1.039 OPS.
Fukudome.  9 of his 15 hits have been for extra bases (3 homers, 6 doubles).  He leads the team with 9 walks.  His AVG is .375; his OBP is .480; his OPS is 1.230.
Theriot.  .400 AVG, .468 OBP, 3 steals in 4 tries.
Ramirez.  .333 AVG.  3 homers, 11 RBI, one Clutchy McClutcherson moment.
Lee.  .381 AVG in his last 5 games, 0 double plays and counting.

Who's Not
... except for Soto, Fontenot, and Miles
Soto.  2 for 19.  On the bright side, he drew 3 walks yesterday and he doesn't appear to be pressing in order to compensate for his crappy bat skills.
Fontenot.  His .222 AVG is bad.  (Duh.)  His .364 OBP and .725 OPS, not too bad.  He'll straighten out.
Miles.  At least Mike's direct competition for second base isn't exactly setting the field on fire.  Mr. Aaron Miles is 2 for 15 with a .369 OPS.

Conclusions
As a team the Cubs are batting a mere .258, but their OBP is a spectacular 101 points higher.  There are other teams out there with better OBPs so far, but only 3 have actually drawn more walks. 

On the pitching front, it's been very hit and miss with the Cubs.  But Ted Lilly in his last outing was mostly miss for his opponents.  He probably won't throw another 1-hitter today, but I anticipate him having another good outing. 

And wouldn't it just be a perfect start to 2009 for the Cubs to take 3 of 4 at home from their rivals?

Quick Links
Series Preview: Cardinals vs. Cubs
Game Recap: Cardinals 7, Cubs 4
Game Recap: Cubs 8, Cardinals 7
Game Recap: Cubs 7, Cardinals 5

Game Recap: Cubs 7, Cardinals 5; Clutchy McClutcherson strikes again

Win!Baseball is a game of inches.  A ball hit down the third base line ... if it drops just a few inches to the left ...

... a high blast, flying against the wind ... if it can just clear the wall in the outfield ...

... the ball is caught and a runner tags up.  If the outfielder can just gun it to the infielder in time ...

Well, you get the point.  It feels right now like the last two games have been won by inches.  A few bad breaks, a few terrible calls, a few runs not scored and the Cubs could easily be 5-6 right now instead of 7-4.  As a Cub fan living with perennial fear for my team, I can't help but worry about all these close calls.  As a baseball fan watching a good team win close games, I can't help but be thrilled by the outcomes.  It's a strange thing to be a Cub fan - I can't speak for you, but most of us are just a little crazy.

So what was the defining moment of tonight's game?  Was it ...

  • The bottom of the 3rd when, down 3-0, Kosuke Fukudome delivered again, this time an RBI double, keeping the Cubs offense alive in a game that could have fallen out of hand?
  • How about the bottom of the 5th when, down 4-2, Derrek Lee hit a 2-run double that tied the game for the Cubs?
  • Perhaps it was the 7th when, after Neal Cotts walked 2 men on 8 pitches, Carlos Marmol stepped in and ended the Cardinals threat briefly keeping the Cubs in front 5-4?
  • It probably was not the 8th inning when Marmol returned to pitch again (against my wishes, curse you Lou) and surrendered two doubles before hitting Khalil Greene.  Although Kevin Gregg stepping in and extinguishing the threat gives him back some of the closer cred that he lost in the first week of the season.
  • The top of the 10th when Alfonso Soriano made a good catch and gunned out Chris Duncan at second base?
  • The bottom of the 11th when Aramis Ramirez sent 'em all home with a walk off homerun.

I'll let you decide which moment was the most important.  The easy answer is the A-Ram homer.  The tougher one is that none of it would have happened if those players - Kosuke, Lee, Marmol, Gregg, Soriano, and the unmentioned Aaron Miles - hadn't delivered.

So, the Cubs won again.  They've now won 2 of 3 and have the chance tomorrow to send St. Louis out of Chicago as sad participants.  I predicted previously that Dempster would have a great game; man was I wrong.  He wasn't particularly terrible but his output definitely would have fallen under the meh-diocre banner.

Tomorrow his left-handed partner in crime will try to finish the job.  As I said before, baseball is a game of inches.  The Cubs easily could be down 3 games to 0 right now.  As exciting as these close wins have been, I'm a little tired of living with these retracted-from-fear testes and I hope they win tomorrow by a mile.  It'll be Lilly v. Wellemeyer.  It shouldn't be close.  ...I hope.

Quick Links
Series Preview: Cardinals vs. Cubs
Game Recap: Cardinals 7, Cubs 4
Game Recap: Cubs 8, Cardinals 7
GameCast: Cubs vs. Cardinals April 18th

GameCast: April 18th - Cardinals vs. Cubs Round 3

Game Day!Ryan Dempster (1-0, 4.50 ERA) vs. Kyle Lohse (2-0, 1.13 ERA)
Story-lines

In the first game, the Cardinals wielded a strong pimp hand against the Cubs. 

In the second game, it looked to be more of the same before Alfonso Soriano selfishly  hulked up in the 8th inning and hit a decisive game-winning homerun. 

In the third game, Cubs ace Ryan Dempster will take on Kyle Lohse, who is just one of many pitchers to have mediocre careers before coming to St. Louis where he went 15-6 last year. 

In the past 3 seasons the Cubs have pwned Lohse.  In 7 starts he's 1-2 against the Cubs with a 5.16 ERA, although he's pitched very well at Wrigley Field.

One way or the other, one of these two teams will be playing for a split-at-best after today's game.  My money would be on the Cubs if I wasn't opposed to gambling due to political reasons.  Nevertheless...

Who's Hot
Alfonso Soriano - He struck out 3 times yesterday, and walked not once, but a game-winning homerun will keep anybody in the hot column.

Derrek Lee - Since starting the year 2 for 25, Lee has gone 7 for his last 15.  Again, small sample size.  But Derrek seems to be able to still get hits after all, and so far this year 0 double plays.

Aramis Ramirez - after going 3 for 4 yesterday, he's up to .364 on the season.

Who's Not
Milton Bradley - Don't Wake will miss the next 2 games thanks to a supsension.  He's still only got 1 hit on the '09 campaign, a homer, and his slow start may be a reason for the occasional offensive druthers of the Cubs.

One other thought about Milton and his suspension-inducing strikeout.  Rob is right.  If you're in Milton's position, after the very first blown call your job becomes Defender of the Strike Zone.  Swing at anything and everything close.  I'm sure there was something in Bradley's brain that was screaming "you know you're right, it was a ball, so screw him and stick to your guns!  Only swing at strikes!"  (It's the same kind of mentality that causes a person to drive for half an hour in the wrong direction while lost ... once you start headed down that road, it's awful hard to turn around.) 

But what Bradley should have done was protect the strike zone and foul off the balls that looked close until he got one that was an indesputible strike.  Just my two cents on it.

Mike Fontenot - A 1 for 4 game yesterday is great, but he's still only batting .229 on the season.  Wake Up, Fontenot!

Conclusions
I like the Cubs' chances today.  Dempster seems to enjoy pitching at Wrigley, Lohse flinches like a battered spouse any time the Cubs roll into town, and the Cubs offense is starting to click.

Quick Links

Series Preview: Cardinals vs. Cubs
Game Recap: Cardinals 7, Cubs 4
Game Recap: Cubs 8, Cardinals 7

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